Saudi Barbaria

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When Saudi Arabia threatens Canada for demanding the release of women’s rights activists there, my first reaction is to laugh, because I’ve always thought the place wallowed proudly in its panoramic abuse of human rights in general. Let’s take a look at this puffed-up, backward stretch of oil-rich sand, more a family business than any kind of state.

 

Cobbled together by Ibn Sa’ud, patriarch and owner of many goats, in the 18th century, it was a fractious confederation of semi-nomadic tribes, from each of which he took a bride, until British colonial plunderers gave it the nod as a “kingdom” – meaning it might have some utility as an “ally”, should the need for one arise. Then along came a man named Wahhab, according to his own parents deranged, who saw himself as, not a second coming of the Prophet Mohammed but a far greater being, one destined to be Caliph of the entire Islamic world. His version of Islam, essentially a heresy, resembled a penal code of unbendable rules, many of which ostensibly outlawed pleasure, music, dancing, and so on. Ibn Sa’ud saw great virtue in an alliance with Wahhab and the sponsorship of his “faith” chiefly because it solved his most frustrating problem. What the old sand-pirate craved to do most was raid the rich caravans coming from Persia, but Islamic law forbade a Muslim from attacking and robbing other Muslims. Wahhabism, however, maintained that other forms of the religion – Shia, Sufi, Aluwite, Ismaili, etc. – were not Islam, were in fact infidels who should be attacked and robbed. The Persians were of course Shia. This was music to Ibn Sa’ud’s ears’ and so a deal was struck which essentially divided the kingdom equally between princes of his house and Wahhabite priests. The caravans from Persia were now legitimate prey, and hostility between the two places remains bitter to this day. The Kingdom likes you to think its national religion is orthodox Sunni Islam, yet it is not. Proof of this came early too. When the Saudis annexed the holy city of Mecca, traditionally held by Hashemite Sunnis, there was inordinate bloodshed. But the biggest problem arose during the first Haj pilgrimage, when Egyptian Sunni pilgrims marched towards the city singing their traditional Haj songs. What to do? Remember, singing is banned in Wahhabism. After some debate, the Saudi troops slaughtered all the Egyptians, men, women and children, which adroitly fixed that dilemma. The Brits, who regarded the Middle East as their bailiwick, didn’t care what Arabs did to other Arabs – or didn’t care until there was a reason to care.

 

This came with oil, which it was agreed would be co-owned by Brits and Saudis. Under numerous distracting corporations, to avoid accusations of monopoly, this arrangement still continues, orient and occident, with America now more of the occident. By the seventies, everyone knew the Saudis were fabulously wealthy, because princes from the hereditary family business were throwing their money around in all the casinos and whorehouses of Europe. But what of the equally hereditary priesthood, who could hardly be seen at gaming tables or in brothels? What did they do with their share of the loot? Well, sad to say, they invested in spreading their despicable heresy around the globe with free schools and mosques (hard for a poor nation to refuse) that all espoused the hateful creed, that still vehemently denounces other forms of Islam (except the Sunni form, of course), whose adherents are recommended for execution, or indeed whatever enormity you fancy visiting on them.

 

I will state unambiguously that Wahhabism, the Saudi state religion, is entirely responsible for all so-called Islamic extremism, from Al Qaeda to ISIS and beyond. The notion of founding a “caliphate”, a major preoccupation of these factions, is precisely the same megalomaniacal fantasy that Wahhab himself dreamt up. Osama bun Laden, the 9/11 bombers, the Taliban, and every other murderous maniac crawling around the planet’s less fortunate areas – all Wahhabis or funded by Wahhabi money. Fact.

 

And these are the people – inspired by their new and obnoxiously self-important Crown Prince – who now threaten us? Saudi Arabia is the only place I have ever been that I thoroughly detested, whose menfolk – for the womenfolk are all imprisoned – I found uniquely uncivilized, whose culture I found non-existent, and whose social mores I found completely barbaric. Homosexuality is punished by beheading. Freedom of speech is unheard of, and if it peeps a teeny bit gets a minimum of a thousand lashes. A joint of pot is worth 20 years in jail or worse – and in Saudi Barbaria twenty years is at least twenty years. It goes on and, as I said, I thought they were pleased and proud of this medieval intolerance. Now I find that posturing buffoon at the helm is touchy about being advised to catch up with international laws… well, I’m inclined to say, ‘Let’s invade and free the women, along with everyone who is not a prince or priest.” Those parasites can be set to work building a submarine zoo for themselves.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

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Misappropriation of Reason

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With the closing of Robert le Page’s Slave, a musical of traditional slave songs, whose crime was having a white lead singer, an intensely irritating fly in the social ointment needs once again to be plucked out with tweezers and left to dry in the sun somewhere far away. For those in a rush who just want a bottom line, a slogan to pluck out like a brolly when rain falls from the clouds of cultural fascism, here it is: “cultural appropriation” is a two-word phase whose components are mutually exclusive – like, say, “jello engineering” or “dental confabulation” – which renders the term meaningless and the concept non-existent in reality. There is then no such thing as cultural appropriation, or its companion in semantic folly “appropriation of voice”, which in its overweening arrogance and pomposity tells me I have no right to include African or aboriginal characters in my stories, because only they are allowed to use their voices and will not be my ventriloquist’s dummy. We’ll get back to this captious twaddle.

Let’s examine what happened to Robert le Page’s musical, in so far as we really know what happened, at least. Is there anything inherently wrong about a white person singing songs originating with African slaves working the southern plantations? Of course not. How could there be? For if there were the whole history of American pop music would be wrong, since all its roots were sunk deep in those cotton fields back there in the beginning. Robert Johnson had the blues, so is that what permitted him to sing them? But are we then suggesting that Eric Clapton, the Stones or Led Zeppelin are too wealthy to get the blues so have no right to sing them? I trust not, because blues are a ubiquitous feature or malady of homo sapiens — one man’s not remotely comparable to another’s in terms of crushing severity. Who can say if Robert Johnson’s miseries were any worse or any better than Clapton’s, a man whose only son accidentally fell to his death from the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, a man who suffered heroin and alcohol addiction, laudably overcoming these demons. If blues cannot be compared per se, what then is left to differentiate between singers? Only skin colour, which may be a crude indicator of class in endemically racist America, yet even there, not to mention across much of the world it indicates nothing of the sort. When the controversy over Slave first arose, Le Page pleaded for his potential audience to see the production first, see what he had done with it, before passing judgement. It seemed the only possible rational response to a hubbub over something protesters had not in fact seen. What they’d heard about – white woman in lead role singing black songs – was more than enough proof for them to be utterly certain this was just more of the same old exploitation and abuse. Why, it was scarcely any different from enslaving us to pick Le Page’s cotton till our figures bleed. You pictured him prowling his stage in white straw panama, loose linen suit, a cheroot clamped between his yellowed teeth, and the bullwhip cracking as he demanded more heft behind that bale. O Lordy! The CBC had a virtual ER of overexcited Afro-Canadian objectors, one of them asked why she didn’t take up Le Page’s offer and see the show first before complaining about it. “I don’t need to see it,” she screamed in outrage. “Do I need to see the hotplate where I burnt myself to know it hurt?” The host was no more certain about this analogy than I was. “I know it will cause me more of the same old pain, so why would I subject myself to that?” No one dared venture the obvious answer: Because it might not be what you think… This attitude is, I suggest, essentially no different from the one in Nazi Germany that said all books and art by Jews are poisonous monstrosities and must be burned. If there was someone who suggested the books ought to be read first in case some weren’t poisonous monstrosities, he was probably thrown on the pyre as well to burn on top of Marx, Freud, Kafka et al. For this is facism, which loves censorship, and this is mob tyranny, which hates freedom of speech, and indeed most constitutional rights.

 

Although never stated as such, the real argument was basically that to sing slave songs you had to have come out of the slavery culture. Someone might just have a great-great-grandmother living who could honestly claim to have come from a “slavery culture”, but the great-great-granddaughter can only claim knowledge of post-slave culture, which was admittedly often worse than slavery, but still no worse in essence than that suffered by working classes the world over, and indeed sometimes even a little better. To hear millennials talking about the legacy of slavery in their genes or souls, the ongoing bitterness of it, its eternal penumbra shadowing their lives, it all made recall the TV shows, songs and dramas where this sort of emotional language was forged, and where their sort of neo-Baldwinesque rage personae were released to roam the Afro-American psyche. My people were also persecuted periodically, despised and abused, even enslaved, but I don’t feel their rattling tribulations smashing around my subconscious. They were other people, ones I never met, and they were long ago. It could happen again, and vestiges of it do occasionally surface here and there. But all in all things have changed and I’ll take my chances in a different world. Sure, ancestors of the old enemy roam in our midst, but these are mostly far from the old enemy themselves. They’ve changed as everything changes. If these objectors have been taught that the past is still present, then they have been ill-taught, for a lie is no lesson. Let their teachers un-teach these errors, especially the error of thinking that the past can be undone, rearranged to suit the present and its new needs. No historical revisionism, and certainly no apologies from officialdom unable to apologise for crimes in which they had no part, and no mollycoddling exceptionalism in society can ever alter what was done long ago. It may even be damaging, because the pendulum swings both ways, and if one pushes it too hard, the other will find its arc scoring a far larger swath over very different territory. What was gained will then be lost.

 

A less popular way of seeing all this is its reflection in an essentially neo-colonial attitude of indulgence. Ah, it’s only the blacks and the Indigenous. They’ve had a rough time of it, so let’s indulge their whims, eh? They don’t have much, so no wonder they’re trying to hold onto it. Humour them, because who really cares anyway?

In short, treat them like the children we’ve always regarded them as in our patriarchal world-view. That is not my world-view, however, and since I never had a father I don’t really understand what a patriarch is – except to know I don’t want one. I address all you culprits as adults, so kindly cease and desist your promotion of nonsense about “cultural property”. Such a thing is imaginary. It is not like intellectual property, which is someone’s creation. Feathers, beads, dances, drums, work-songs, foods, speech-patterns, none of it and any of the rest is the work of any individual. Traditions created them over centuries, and traditions are streams flowing from every direction into the river you think of as yours. Well, it’s mine too, brother. One of those streams is me, sister. You want a better world? Then help make it by knocking down your imaginary enclosures, you walls and fences, because the only better world there can ever be is one multi-world, where all are earthlings first and foremost, and then whatever they want to be after that. The human genome is the same in everyone, so, in scientific terms, race does not exist unless it’s the human race. When you tell me what I can and cannot do with my imagination, it makes me want to unpack all of your conceits and ill-informed assumptions. But you must know what they are, how much of what you now consider yours is actually from the hated colonisers. Even your beloved bannock, even your steel guitars… even your religion and sometimes your name too. Who has whose cultural baggage?

 

I notice lawyers on the whole stay out of this, knowing as they must that a can of worms the size of Trump Tower lies beneath it, waiting hungrily for the first fool to launch a suit and feel the floor beneath him deliquesce as he falls forever through an eternity of wriggling worms. The case might be something like: Cinderella is a Teutonic cultural artefact and cannot be adapted to suit the needs of an Urdu movie. After expert testimony from seventy witnesses, the court will be wondering if Cinderella originated in Indonesia, Africa, Asia Minor, Iceland, among the Sioux or Lakota tribes, in Tierra del Fuego, Uruguay, and any one of a few dozen other places where versions of the tale exist in one form or another. This will make Jarndyce and Jarndyce seem like summary justice. For it could never end, since all mythologies and all languages spiral down into a single vat at the end. It is of course all interrelated, so no one can appropriate what is theirs to begin with. You who pride yourselves on being more attuned to the mystic than the rest of us ought to use the facility to put your facts where your myths are. Do not divide, unite, as you claim to believe we must all do.

 

There was one plaintive but truer note in all the jargon and sloganeering over Slave. Someone said the lead role should have been given to a black singer because she was herself a black singer and could use the work. Honest if naïve. That a director of Robert le Page’s stature and radiant resume could be suspected of racial bias is preposterous and insulting. Anyone aware of his work could only be certain that he’d select as his cast the very best performers who auditioned for each role. The production itself could also be presumed to represent his finest work given whatever limitations might have existed, and his greatest efforts under any circumstances. I imagine the backers closed it down, thinking, like all moneymen, of the bottom line and any damage to their reputation. Put quotes around “thinking” because it’s only their euphemism for reacting. Had anyone actually thought, they would have realised this nonsensical codswollop could be stopped with a little pertinent straight talk. But political correctness – another vile misnomer – is a creeping distemper in the arts community reminiscent of the 80s herpes scare. You can be afflicted by someone who doesn’t even know they’ve got it. You can catch it by sharing a meal or a doorknob. And when you’ve got it you will lose all your friends and have to consort with others similarly afflicted. The slightest hint of a derogatory remark, even an innocent query – isn’t basket-making more of a craft than an art? – will see you flung into the outer darkness. So no wonder an Achilles did not appear to shout from the ramparts: “There’s no such thing as cultural appropriation!” But you’d have thought at least someone would have echoed Robert le Page’s suggestion, his very fair and reasonable suggestion: see it first. But none did. Those unwilling to defend imagination and the arts from censorship and tyranny in a thousand forms deserve to have no arts at all, since they already lack the quintessential imagination to house them and the vital courage to follow them wherever they lead.

 

Star Wars Redux?

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Last week, amid the outcry against grotesque in humanity at the Mexican border, President Trump – how those two words still sit so uneasily together, so incongruously! – ordered the Department of Defence and the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the US Military he called Space Force. Its purpose? To make America great again beyond the ionosphere, out there in the universe. Another branch of the military? It does sound like the weaponization of space, doesn’t it? Well, a very clever East Indian fellow, whose name old age currently prevents from recalling, drafted the International Law governing outer space, and among the many clauses in this law, approved by the UN, is the prohibition of weapons there. It also declares all off-world bodies, moons, asteroids, planets, international territory, whose resources, if any, belong to the world as a whole. This may sound chauvinistic to any Venusians or Martians looking on, but from our point of view it certifies the solar system, the galaxy, and indeed everything else, as the communal property of our planet, the one presumed to be discovering everything. It’s not unreasonable, and won’t be until someone else comes along. Possibly no one has told Trump, and you can be certain he’s never read about it himself, that the Reagan-era Strategic Defence Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars, was in fact a sham designed to spook the erstwhile Soviet Union into throwing in the towel. That and an undermining of the economy by means of luring them into Afghanistan actually worked. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by trying to keep up with American financial exceptionalism, and the glorious age of Putin was born. Star Wars was a theoretical system of “death-star” satellites capable of shooting any incoming hostile missiles out of the middle air long before they reached America. Digital videos of the whole kit and caboodle looked very sci-fi and effective, as satellites zapped away at incoming threats left, right and centre, the lasers terminating old-fashioned missiles the way they do in video games. The trouble was that this in itself was a video game. The Pentagon of course never bothered to announce that the SDI was indeed a marvellous idea, but also one so expensive that the entire world together couldn’t afford it. Better dead than bankrupt was the message. But Russia and China believed SDI was in the works, and, unsurprisingly, thirty years later both of America’s eternal foes have rather pitiful versions of “death-star” satellites that can, or sometimes can in publicized tests, zap the satellites that pry into secretive doings on their stretches of earth or threaten their own wastelands of space junk. You can’t have this coercion going on, can you? Ergo: Space Force.

 

Let us theoretically posit that the UN’s Security Council is a monstrous aberration that negates the purpose of the entire rather useless organization. It’s just an hypothesis. So why is it that members of this Security Council always include Russia, China and America, with lesser, very grateful nations given a brief peek at what the big boys do? And what those big boys do – let’s call them RAC – is whatever the fuck they like. If criticized at all, it is by fellow big boys. All three of them have now broken space law, and who is calling for punitive measures? Perhaps no one? At least the international outrage is so muted that this latest American response – always belligerent – is… Space Force, war in outer space, more shame for this planet, if that is anyone else is watching. No outcry so far, no gnashing of UN teeth, probably because 95 percent of the planet views space exploration in much the same way as it views immortality. Yet for the rest of us the weaponization of space is very real, and a very real threat on the same level as the race for atomic weapons. The testing of “death-star” satellites way up there in the endless night will have unpredictable effects down here, from the disruption of telecommunications and data storage systems to the ever-more-likely event of space junk, a few tons of scrap metal, hurtling down to land in your kiddie park or wherever. The consequences of an actual shooting war up there are unthinkable.

 

Yet there he is, Space-Admiral Trump, the uniform tight, muscle-defining, as he salutes another platoon of space warriors on their way to do battle with Darth Putin’s scaly scum or the Beijingons. And no one objects? And no one points out that this is in fact illegal? Let the facts be facts, and life the thing it can, by all means, but don’t see yourselves as innocent bystanders when you can’t be bothered to rebel against monstrosity when it rears up on your watch. If we aren’t prepared to die for certain principles we have no principles at all.

The G6-Plus-One Summit

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A state that has to protect itself with military from its own citizens is, in Plato’s terms, a state sliding down the slippery slope from democracy to tyranny. This is what happened over the last few days at the summit of western industrial nations here in Quebec. Police outnumbered demonstrators. They may have been called “police” but for all intents and purposes they were the government’s private army – in fact their actual function at all times – in full riot gear, with shields, staves, guns with real and rubber bullets, flak-vests, and tear-gas launchers. It is a worrying spectacle to hear of a police force, allegedly existent “to serve and protect”, clad to do battle with those they’re supposed to be serving and protecting. Worrying too is the news that most demonstrators stayed away because of the massive and unwarranted police presence. This is not what a free society is all about, and it has been dismaying to watch as freedoms have been gradually given up, supposedly in the interests of public safety. As was said by wiser lips, “Those who would give up freedom for a little security deserve neither freedom nor security.” And the cost of this police-state jamboree? $600 million, we’re told. But with this cash-happy Liberal Government, no doubt it will eventually top a billion Considering the G7 debacle in Toronto several years ago, when hundreds of demonstrators were wrongfully arrested, also at an immense cost, why should taxpayers be expected to foot such inordinately steep bills? Who cares where western industrial dignitaries have their pointlessly inconclusive meetings, meetings their so-called “Sherpas” – insulting to the real Sherpas – basically have for them in advance anyway? Let them take place on a private island somewhere, with a few boats as the security.

 

One thing we know about Donald Trump – perhaps the only thing we know for sure – is that he’s no gentleman. One of the privileges, probably one of the few, accorded to the mayor of the small town where this summit was held was the right to personally greet arriving world leaders, no doubt for a photo-op. But not Trump. Oh, no. He was far too grand and important to handy-dandy with so lowly an official. He arrived late and cut his visit short too. How obnoxiously insulting to the leaders of the only countries America can really rely on as allies! The man is so far beneath contempt his head or arse must be poking out in Australia, and his contempt for his peers is pushing the US ever further into the backwater it’s destined to occupy for the rest of history unless policies and attitudes change. It’s not such a powerhouse anymore. The leaders themselves have been calling the erstwhile G7 the G6-Plus-One for some time now, with the US pulling out of or refusing to sign mainly climate accords. If this goes on, it will just be the G6, and as such can still competently lead the western industrial world without Washington. We know from Trump’s disastrous lack of success in business ventures over the past couple of decades – only Russian banks would lend him money to continue – that business is not his forte. Marketing is that. But to hear him at the summit declaring that Russia should be present as a member was rich beyond belief. In fact Russia was kicked out of what was then a G8 when Putin invaded Crimea and attacked the Ukraine. They won’t be allowed back either, or not until they reform their policies. America may well be heading in the same direction. Trump’s lack of business acumen, manifest in his trade tariffs, and his unwillingness to read reports or to be advised, clearly prevents him from knowing that the Great Depression wasn’t caused by a stock market crash – the only disaster he seems to comprehend. It was caused by a trade war, the kind of war he imagines is easily won. In your dreams, scumbag, in your fetid dreams.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

 

How To Respond

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The preeminent German news magazine Der Spiegel  is suggesting that we cancel the G-7 meeting to be held soon here in Quebec. Why pretend cooperation with Trump, they say, when he makes enemies of his allies? The meeting won’t be cancelled, for dialogue must go on or else all is lost. But I think it marks the beginning of an isolation that America will regret in years to come, as she slides into global irrelevance. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates define four types of unjust governments into which decaying societies successively fall on their way down: timocracy, which is the rule of spirited big property-owners, oligarchy, democracy, which to him deteriorates into mob rule, and tyranny, where the demagogue is inclined to start wars and other conflicts to bolster up his image as a leader. From our perspective, it seems muddled, for democracy must surely precede oligarchy? But the schemata is otherwise intact and sound enough, with only our contemporary notions of democracy at odds with the contention. The demagogue, says Plato, exploits a fear of oligarchy by the masses to establish his tyranny. He uses his power to root out whatever decent elements that remain in a society, leaving only the worst elements in key positions. It seems familiar, or it does south of the border. The whole sequence, conceived 2,300 years ago, can still be usefully applied to the gradual decadence of many if not most states. But what does it say of Canada’s continued, if reluctant, compliance with Washington?

 

Gore Vidal called his country the United States of Amnesia. They forget, they forget. But we forget too. We forget that not so many years ago Venezuela was being hailed as a new oil superpower, an oil-rich country set to wallow in riches from the earth the way the Saudis have been doing. Now Venezuela is a nation on the verge of disintegration, whereas under the socialist Hugo Chavez it could cock a snook at the behemoth to its north. What happened? Well, the US pushed its weight around at the UN and sanctions were imposed on the sale of Venezuelan oil, sending the economy into a tailspin. Sanctions are always imposed on countries said to hate their own people. But the sanctions merely reveal those who impose them also to hate that nation’s people, for sanctions have little effect on ruling elites, only devastating the masses. Canada, which has now cut Venezuelan visas by fifty percent, has had little to say about this criminal travesty. Why? Because Canadian oil prices benefit from the embargo on Venezuelan oil, as do US oil prices, and for that matter Russian oil prices and everyone else’s oil prices, except of course Iran’s, which are also under sanction, a sanction Trump is eager to keep in place. If one country is to emerge as decent and progressive in all of this, it will be the one whose leader is honest and courageous enough to say, “Enough of this! We want, and will have, a world free of greed and hypocrisy, a world where goodness alone produces truth,” as Socrates tells us can be the case with objects of knowledge, just as the Sun’s light enables us to see the objects of perception in the world.

Half-Light of the Antichrists

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Perhaps Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are not exactly friends in the normal sense of the word – which in any case is not something either man would understand less still seek – but let us theorise that they’re comrades-in-arms, at least inasmuch as they both represent an autocratic oligarchy which sees itself, and always has seen itself as rightful rulers of the earth. Accepting for the sake of hypothesis that this is so, what, you rightly ask, does either of them stand to gain from threatening a nuclear holocaust that would effectively render this planet uninhabitable for millions of years — unless of course you’re a hardy, adaptable and fairly basic organism? What indeed? As we stand at the threshold of what could well be the most serious east-west debacle since the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early sixties, it is worth looking at the benefits to both sides of, not actually going to war but of appearing to be contemplating it. I doubt if any government on the planet believes a nuclear war is winnable or even feasible – and this would probably be because it isn’t. Why then hold the constant threat of one over our heads, and spend trillions of dollars annually on preparing for one? What possible reason could there be for such insanity?

 

Here’s what. Firstly, it is a universally agreed truism that the most frightened populations always elect the strongest, most militaristic governments to protect them from usually unwarrantable fears. While this won’t affect Putin’s transparently phony democracy, the success or failure of Trump’s considerably less malleable but still far from truly democratic one will affect them both, for good or for ill. Secondly, the most profitable businesses in both Russia and America are involved in what we can loosely term the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC), or in other words the privatized military-supply game, whose products now range from meals-ready-to-eat to missiles ready to fire (at $150,000 a pop). No product is so good a money-earner than a bullet or a missile, and everything in between that can only be used once before you need to order more. Now, both Trump and Putin are heavily invested in MIC companies, from, in America, Halliburton – once run by George Bush Junior’s VP Dick Cheney – to major hardware-builders like Lockheed-Martin and General Electric, for which Bush Junior’s Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once worked in a senior capacity. In Russia the names are less familiar to us, but their owners or majority-shareholders are the same crew of oligarchs – some in Putin’s case operating partly as frontmen for him. Knowing this perhaps helps us to understand the continued and ubiquitous prevalence over the past seventy-odd years of wars around the globe, as well as the ceaseless threat of a superpower conflagration. That dwindled almost to nothing over the last twenty years, after the Soviet Union collapsed into bankruptcy, and the lull in business was clearly so disastrous that George Bush Senior even had to privatize the more mundane and utilitarian aspects of the lucrative army-supply business just to keep the dollars flowing into the hands of his friends and cronies. Even food was handed over to corporations like Halliburton, whereas things like peeling spuds were once an internal affair, and a useful punishment too. You’d think that security was one matter the army could definitely take care of itself; but no, now it is in the hands of private companies, whose operatives are paid ten times what the grunts get, and are also answerable to no government office at home. In Iraq, for example, these operatives robbed, raped and murdered with apparent impunity (at least none of them has yet be tried in a court of law). Putin et al were similarly busy in the resurrected and profligately capitalist Russia. One great advantage in this kind of business transaction is that the buyer never questions a seller’s price. It’s just taxpayers’ money so who cares?

 

It thus seems to me obvious that the astronomical profits to be made from war and, better still, the threat of war will be irresistibly attractive to those with the contacts and the funds to get involved in such enterprises – and usually to get involved fairly surreptitiously, so conflicts of interest and galloping corruption can be easily and vituperatively denied. Under Putin’s cunning aegis, the Russians got deep into cyberwarfare long before anyone else saw the virtues in it – and the results of this can now be seen almost daily in the west.

 

Those who imagine things are so much better in Canada ought to think again. Compared with the hundreds of millions spent on worthy projects, the hundreds of billions, or even the trillions spent on machines or weapons of death take up a goodly portion of the GDP – or to put it more bluntly our tax dollars. Do we really know who the actual recipients of this largesse are? In some cases we do a little. But mostly we don’t. I have always thought that a useful thesis topic would be the study of and interrelationships found in the boards of certain mega-corporations. When I briefly and cursorily looked into it back in the nineties I was struck by the multiple presence of the same names on different but equally significant boards. Then there were the monikers of certain individuals with profound contacts in the Canadian government registered on the boards of US companies with who Canada was doing very big business. I imagine that the same thing would be true today. Although now more than then it must be remembered that corporate loyalties are not national but transnational. They go wherever the money goes; yet that still does not mean a board member cannot make a vast profit by urging a deal between his or her native Canada and another entity based elsewhere. In fact the rise and rise of interglobal finance makes all kinds of skullduggery and fiscal flimflam easier rather than more difficult to enact. I wish some enterprising post-grad student would pick up this study of what is essentially who runs what and run with it themselves.

 

To conclude the hypothesis: Over the past few years we’ve seen Putin’s Russia almost gleefully willing to play the bad guy, the provocateur and belligerent, whether in Crimea, the Ukraine, England, Syria or in America herself. Why such shamelessly provocative and hostile acts? Well, it could be in wise recognition of the fact that America is far better at playing the alleged good guy in international squabbles and conflicts, since this is what plays well with the notoriously fickle US public. And it certainly adds to Putin’s domestic prestige as tough guy, standing up to the motherland’s incessant bullying by western powers. A friend of mine in Moscow tells me that Putin now genuinely believes his new and improved nukes can slide in the US undetected and impossible to intercept. I doubt it, but much of chess is bluff – and Russia always turns out grand master after grand master. All we can be sure of is that the endless threats, provocations and proxy wars will continue, and continue to make trillions for those in the war-facilitation business. The pity is that we, the people seem incapable of putting a stop to our end of this despicable trade and those involved in it.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

Who Breaks a Butterfly Upon a Wheel?

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It’s a line by Alexander Pope:

Let Sporus tremble –”What? that thing of silk,

Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?

Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,

This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings;

Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,

Yet wit ne’er tastes, and beauty ne’er enjoys…

 

Sporus was a male sex-slave favoured by the Roman Emperor Nero, who also personally castrated him. The wheel is an excruciatingly painful instrument of torture and death.

 

Whenever you hear of politicians banning prostitution it’s always either due to feeble-mindedness or because elections are nigh. You can take your pick with the US Congress’s recent fantastically imbecilic and heartlessly cruel piece of legislation, which targets sex-workers, websites and newspapers running “escort” ads. Habitually gutless and unprincipled, these media immediately jumped when the ringmaster’s whip cracked down, dumping all such personal ads. Who cares? Such is the expected reaction from the housewives of America. Their hypocritical spouses know when to remain silent, even in the face of a monstrous injustice – well, most accept these as quotidian: after all,  they’re Americans. No one cares about the media losing ad-revenues, of course. Why would they? What we all should care about profoundly, however, are the many thousands of women whose livelihood has just been trashed, whose means of safeguarding themselves against psycho johns and intemperate weather has been ripped from under them, and who will now be forced to ply their trade under conditions of substantial danger, ill-health and chronic anxiety. Serves them right; they should get themselves proper jobs, you say. If you do say this, though, you’re a fucking bestial moron, unfeeling and mindless.

 

Prostitution may not be the oldest profession, but it’s definitely been around longer than politics – and it will be thriving long after the greed-heads in their suits and ties are scrambling over the world’s edge to flee society’s wrath. This current fool’s errand is largely an attempt by Republicans to play to their base among the trenchantly unchristian Christians and the immoral yapping moralists. Half the escort clientele in Washington are congressmen and senators – and you can be sure their female stables will be unaffected by the current bitch-hunt.

 

The new laws need to be examined closely, however, because they’re really not very new and of questionable legality. There are States’ Rights and Constitutional issues here, which we’ll leave to the Civil Liberties’ people. The two main prongs of this pincer attack are just anachronistic sheep in 21st-century wolves’ clothing – the garb being what it usually is: semantics, or language-harassment. Pimping, or “living off the avails of prostitution”, has always been illegal, just as brothel-keeping has in the majority of states. The same is true for sex acts involving minors. These three antiques are now cloaked in the new sex-crime tag that involves something called “sex-trafficking”. This makes it sound like the slave trade, of course, hides it under a cowl of more-frightening darkness; whereas in reality – apart from a few exceptions, statistically very few in fact – these villainous “traffickers” are just the same old low-rent pimps and specious petty criminals we’ve always had. And this is another time-honoured line of work, one that may seem repugnant and objectionable, yet also one that has its indisputable advantages and value for the women involved.

 

Accepting money for sex per se cannot be made illegal without potentially making every housewife a criminal. So what these laws have done is frighten a lot of often desperate, downtrodden women, removing the means by which they conducted business in reasonable safety. We can understand why the media fled in fear. You run a thousand sex ads daily and get charged with “facilitating sex-trafficking”, you’re facing a thousand very tricky law suits. Because you have no way of knowing what lies behind each ad – and you’ll have to prove in court that none involve any so-called trafficking. A nightmare – ruinously expensive too. So you have to shut them all down. Common sense and pragmatism demand it.

 

But a woman charged under this same act only has to convince a court she’s not being trafficked (or pimped) – case closed. Some 85 percent of sex-workers say they have no pimp or coercer. Yet the fear generated by these laws makes it all seem so much worse than it this. The really sad thing is that when you persecute the outcasts and underdogs of any society hardly anyone will step up to defend them. It’s the same with smoking and the “vice Taxes” (e.g. booze and tobacco).

 

These women are thus being scapegoated in exactly the same way as the Jews, gays and gypsies were in Nazi Germany. A conspiracy of silence was the enabler then, and it is now. No one has the guts to stand up in defense of these oppressed ladies. And all it’s about, most disgracefully of all, is winning votes from the prurient, the priggish, the hypocrites, and those self-righteous Sunday-Christians whose knowledge of scripture can be engraved on an eyelash and certainly doesn’t involve the frequent and compassionate attitude toward prostitutes Jesus is recorded displaying. As he says of the woman taken in adultery: “Let he who is without sin among you throw the first stone…”

 

I don’t know what American “fundamentalist” Christians believe, but it’s scarcely fundamental and seems contrary to every core teaching allotted to Christ. “Blessed are… Do unto others as you would have others do unto you…” In all the ranting hyperbole and twisted hellfire nonsense, I don’t see much Jesus at all. Hypocrisy may not be listed by Thomas Acquinas as a “deadly sin”, but it sure as hell is one. And hate is the worst one of all. These church-going, Bible-thumping sinners have another woeful strike against them too: How sad is it that they’re unable to perceive the self-serving machinations of their alleged representatives in the capital? How pathetic is it that these pious prudes think Donald Trump is on their side? God assuredly isn’t.

 

To all those women whose trade is their own flesh, I say: Chin up, ladies. It isn’t as bad as it seems. When I was a kid we saw postcards in doorways: FRENCH LESSONS FIRST FLOOR, or SWEDISH MODEL – RING BELL. No one thought it was about linguistics or Scandinavia. There never were, or ever will be laws prohibiting advertisements for language-tutoring and freelance modelling. An escort agency only providing dinner companions for ladies or gents alone in a strange city is not responsible for whatsoever their escorts do by themselves on their own initiative, and agents cannot be prosecuted for it. There can also never be a law against anyone in any occupation receiving gifts from and/or having a brief fling with someone they meet during the course of their work or leisure.

 

This most ancient of professions has always found a way – and it always will. But it would help now if someone courageous and principled, ideally a lawyer or legal authority, stood up and fought these two-faced, duplicitous scumbags back into the rank sty where they belong. But when the Mid-Terms are over in November it will all fade away… until the next halfwit or the next election comes around, naturally. In the meantime, America, try a little tenderness, thought and compassion – they work wonders. History attests to the fact.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

The Cost of Living in Canada

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Prices in Canada, Liberal government, Justin Trudeau, high taxes, government spending, millennials, government corruption, anarchism, revolution, unworkable system, taxpayers, legal swindling, government fraud, excessive costs, Italian politics, paul William roberts

Here is a brief gripe. Last week I did something I’ve always resisted doing: compiling a budget, or rather assessing my nut, what it costs me to live each month. The conclusion was rather astounding, since we live here extremely frugally, eating meat and buying a bottle of wine once a week, etc.: $6,500 per month. God, I thought, and checked it twice. But 6.5 K it always was. Two days later I realised that, of the $6,500, a third of it was owed to the taxman, so I needed to pull in some $8,500 in order to have the 6.5K I needed just to survive. Then I thought about what this third of my income was buying for me. The only answer, taking into account all the other less overt taxes, was a lousy, inefficient and incompetent healthcare system, a system unhealthy and careless. Next, naturally enough, I thought of this preternaturally bountiful Liberal government we have. $4 million just to restore the formerly abandoned couple of prison farms to arable land; $50 million to assist the entirely useless Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women commission in its pointless and futile work; $80 million for new jets to bolster the image of armed forces unlikely ever to see any combat they haven’t elected to engage in… and so it goes, and goes and goes. Committees for this, commissions for that. Representatives sent here or there when a phone call or televideo conference would serve the purpose perfectly well. A prime minister swanning around the globe to fuck up badly more often than not these days – and at what unmentionable cost? This is where money I can ill afford goes, and I’m heartily sick of it. With food, and nearly everything else costing up to twice as much as it does south of the border, and even Canadian wine or maple syrup costing more than it does an hour or so’s drive away in the US – this cost jacked up by yet more taxes – I think the time has come to reign in these inept politicians and demand them to be called into account for the careless, thoughtless and useless way in which they scatter our money to the winds of fashion or telegenicism. I have been in the excessively-taxed Scandinavian countries, where you see on all sides what your considerable tax dollars are buying. Here you see nothing but a bloated bureaucracy throwing cash at every problem that arises, many of which are, admittedly, dilemmas arising in the equally poorly-run provinces, where every slight renovation or long-needed bridge-building always costs improbable millions. If other Canadians feel the same way as I do – and who but carefree and youthfully idealistic millennials could not do? – the next election wil swipe the Liberals from power and install a Conservative government, which won’t keep its promises of smaller governance and lower taxes either. The time has come, I think, for the kind of major change we’ve just seen in Italy’s recent election, with a new party committed to overhauling the entire system voted into partial power. The self-interested or hamstrung buffoons in Ottawa need to be driven out with billhooks, and a new day proclaimed. Surely any imbecile knows that pushing the envelope so impracticably far one way just guarantees it will be pushed back equally far if not further the other way when the change comes? And the change always comes.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

The End of His Story?

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“All this violence, the inner cities, the school shootings – it’s always the same weapons, the AR-15 and so on, the assault rifles… you make then unattainable, well, you’ve gone a long way to solving the problem… so why don’t these politicians do it? You got to face the fact that someone wants this shit to go on, the killing, the terror of our kids… they do say that fear is what feeds a police state, the kind of high security admin situation that someone like Trump wants in place… if his daughter got blown away you might see some action on guns – ‘til then though you’re going to see nothing…”

 

–       Caleb Bencher (Florida)

 

“More folks die in traffic accidents every day, we’re going to ban the car? Of course not. We need more guns not fewer… have armed guards in every school… a gun is the only protection any of us have got against these terrorist…”

 

–       Henry Posner (National Rifle Association)

 

 

O, America! You’re

supposedly a democracy, aren’t you? Have a referendum on this gun

issue, it’s the democratic way – see what the people really think and want.

Then, whatever the result, at least we’ll know who bears the tragic flaw, who

in fact wants this slaughter to continue on forever. But I suspect

Washington fears to have what the people really want etched there in stone

for all the world to see – for the government has no interest in what the

people want, and it rarely ever has. This explains the vested interest in

stupidity for the masses that every administration since Roosevelt has

displayed in a concerted and wholly successful attack on education. If the state schools are bad the working poor attending them won’t get any smarter, will they? And further assisting this stupidity drive, many will drop out of crummy schools around Grade Nine or Ten, certified for life as dumb. When you’re dumb, politics, the economy, etc etc, are beyond your ken, outside your sphere of reference – which encompasses sports, maybe religion (invariably fundamentalist Christian), hunting, food, possibly drink and maybe vacations in the US. Perhaps you see voting in elections as a waste of time; perhaps you always vote for the party that convinces you it’s on your side? This is always the Republican Party, whose candidates are always schooled in what you want (but almost never give it to you – and you always seem to forget or overlook this betrayal). The corporate-owned media see to it that your position of extravagant stupidity is never lampooned, or not cruelly, and indeed extolled in numberless dramas as a paragon to be aspired to by all invisibly indentured Americans, the wage-slaves who are the nation – but, alas, the nation isn’t them. Docility, steady work and obedience are guaranteed by the vast range of loans they all have to pay into each month, the mortgages, rents, health insurance, pensions, car loans, kids’ education fees and all the other rabid but unforeseen drains on the wallet to which we’re all vulnerable heirs. A thousand sources say this is the way, the truth and the life all yearn to live – and if you don’t or can’t read, how can you ever discover it may not be all they say it is? You do what your friends do, vote for the person who claims to be all about you and your needs, but remaining loyal and undeterred when they prove to have been fibbers (but not for themselves, f course, but rather because of unexpected situations arising during their term). In effect, the blue-collar masses always vote against their own interests, which are best represented by policies of the more liberal-minded. It’s a mystery. But the overall subtext of TV and video broadcasts clears up the mystery. Not all but most programs or shows reflect values, celebrate and endorse the situational plight of a proletariat oppressed and exploited by Big Business — without them even knowing it, which shows you how well-planned and successful the scheme is. This is the truth about most of America – and few dare

utter it, none of this few ever allowed to utter it on major media.

 

As in Britain and elsewhere in the West particularly, education is for a monied elite, those who can effortlessly afford the vertiginous fees of private schools, where classes are small (less than a quarter of those in the best state schools), the syllabi rigorous, useful and thorough. These schools of course feed the major universities (the lesser ones are mostly all businesses in disguise, profit their only real concern, their decrees scarcely worth the paper they’re on), where fees are a struggle for the poorer students, many of who are paying off loans into their forties or beyond. It is a system designed solely for the wealthy, to ensure their caste remains near the apex of our social pyramid (which once all North Americans could climb, but now all are discouraged and even prevented legally from climbing it –  just as they do in Europe to keep the strata stratified). It is blatantly iniquitous, this system, and until it is dismantled – all receiving the same education – society will not evolve or adapt well to a rapidly evolving global world. Private schools are the principal problem here, and there is no rational justification for their continued existence if a society is truly egalitarian. Poverty is a part of this problem too, though, and one of its solutions may well be a guaranteed universal wage, the sum paid to all regardless of their situation and without a means test. Small-scale experiments – conducted here in Manitoba – have shown that a major effect of this guaranteed income is people returning to school or college, or else continuing on with an education without fear of a chronically reduced income. Of course there are those who say why give people money for nothing – it’s unnatural and encourages the idle. But the vast subsidies paid out to  large businesses are generally money handed out for nothing. For that matter so is inherited wealth. Descendants do nothing generally to earn their inheritances – which are sometimes fabulous – yet these same people denigrate those who receive a guaranteed income to help them out of poverty, and for which they have done nothing – if caring for sick relatives, raising children, cleaning homes, pursuing a course of study, and so on are nothing. In fact just cutting subsidies to big businesses – which often use this money to pay executives ridiculously inflated salaries – would in itself finance the guaranteed universal income, which is still the only sure way to date for a practical eradication of poverty and its concomitant transformation of society. Naturally, though, I don’t expect this to happen, not soon and not ever – for those we elect to govern us, not all but most of them, either are or become beholden to the cash from big business interests, the real powers that be, whose interests are all too well known and immovably rigid when it comes to certain issues. This is far more true in America than it is in Canada, but the cautionary tale so much easier to see is still indispensable here. Just watching the pathetic spectacle of a distraught public pleading for Washington to do something about guns is a grim warning of how easily things can slide – with a President tweeting that the FBI is to blame for not following through with tips about the latest shooter, and this was because all 33,000 of their special agents were tied up being obsessed with the Russian collusion red herring. God, how do Americans tolerate this?

 

Stupidity would be one answer, although it’s spread over different areas, like the nationalist fervour that makes some reluctant to criticize the leader, or a class-bond with the ruling elite that chooses not to tarnish the GOP by broadcasting about the very bad apple in its current barrel. These are all forms of stupidity, whose brand burgeons by the day all over the world, and is the sole cause of social injustice and inequity. If you don’t support the abolition of private schools, for example, you’re stupid – because being part of the problem is just plain dumb. Ditto if you believe society has to be stratified, since people are not born equal or independent. Ditto if you have convinced yourself that some lead, some follow, and the rest should get out of the way. And ditto if you feel big profits justify fraud, deception, shoddy goods sold for top dollar, a thousand percent or more mark-ups, and any other felony or shameful practice you wouldn’t want practised on yourself. There are more of course, but the point is made. It is really all quite simple, this transformation of society from inequity to true egalitarianism, from plutocracy to real democracy; but it will never happen with the systems as they are – and a system will never change unless society itself is changed. It is a vicious circle, one leading only to even greater misery, really oppressive tyranny, vaster inequality, greater divisiveness, or of course bloody revolution – and these never work out well, assuming that when one nightmare is gone utopia ensues. No, an even worse hell takes over, and a dystopia no one has yet thought up ensues. You can see the problem. This latest gun issue is it in microcosm. Have the referendum – it’s clearly the only fair, reasonable and appropriately democratic course of action, isn’t it? What possible objection could there be? But will it happen? No, not in a dozen millennia. Why not? Well, this is the tricky part: the answer is because the United States is not a democracy by any stretch of the term, and it never has been. The electoral system is merely an elaborate guise to bamboozle the masses into believing the PR, when in fact two parties is an alternative not a choice, and the alternative is no alternative at all – look at the mass of congressmen and women: they’re all from the same caste, with some tokenism thrown in to make it deniable. These are not representative Americans, not remotely. Elections are easily rigged too, not that they really need to be rigged – no one undesirable ever runs for office. Win or lose, if you’re a ruler the government doesn’t change – it merely appears to change, usually by the character and personality of the leader, not – God forbid! – by any policy changes. US foreign policy has been consistent since the seventies, and economic policies have never veered far from a course set back in the late forties. You might assume from this that Americans don’t want change, but that is transparently untrue – a glance at the catastrophic conditions in cities shows you this, as does the decay of industry and the steep rise in unemployment. No, things don’t change because America’s rulers mostly serve those who are staunchly resistant to change, not per se but because the current deplorable state is good for business – their businesses of course. And these biggest businesses are the greatest of all worries: the arms trade, or the military-industrial complex, and now supply and logistics companies to keep a privatized army in all the things it used to do for itself, from rations to highly trained security personnel, men and occasionally women who fight for $1,000 a day alongside grunts earning a government salary of less than $100. It ought to give the military an idea of how it’s viewed these days – as an outfit ripe for replacement by robots – but a soldier’s code (aka brainwashing) instills a patriotism so fierce any criticism of the government is like wiping your ass on the flag. But do the math. Big Corporations = arms biz = government = perpetual war= ever-growing profits = dividends for shareholders = big corporations. The money-flow is circular, progenitors being the ultimate recipients too. But the system still depends on a proletariat to function at all – although this may soon change with robotic automation and other new technologies. So if change is to be it needs to come soon, or the cachet of labour will vanish, and with it all leverage. But change is not to be if so simple and rational a thing as banning assault rifles will never happen because too many in Congress are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association, one of the numerous very wealthy lobby groups that are also among the first things an y intelligent person would abolish in order to make government more viable. But they won’t go either, and because naked greed predominates in the upper echelons of American society – which in turn hands more power over to the ultra-rich. Another vicious circle; another condemnation of the moral character Americans love to flaunt as if they’d invented it – and usually as if they possessed it. I see a nation asleep down there, with no one at the wheel, each one thinking someone else will steer, so no one will ever steer. How terminally sad is it to see an entire country grieving over – what? – the 87th school shooting in a year, and wondering what to do about this malaise; then discovering that stronger gun controls will actually help immensely; and finally finding that this will never happen, the carnage will continue, many more children will die, and all because your elected representatives rely on handouts from the gun lobby to prop up their high lifestyles and bolster campaign funds? Is there anything sadder? Well, there is: the parents of those dead children who find their government mutters platitudes and says empty prayers, but does nothing useful at all – because it doesn’t really give a shit about kids in the morgue or their grieving kin. All those suits and ties care about is money – and that is not sad, it’s fantastically monstrous! Land of the Brave, Home of the Free? How anyone can sing those words with a straight face these days baffles and appalls me.

 

Paul William Roberts

State of Disunion

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This was certainly the winter of my discontent: flu that turned to pneumonia and had me feeling like the Death of Chatterton for over a month. But the year stretching out behind it – and now surrounding it – seems so much more dispiriting. I cannot recall a time when North Americans, indeed westerners in general, seemed more despairing about their present and its future. In America, the fabric of governance is in tatters, every move of even the least significant pawn so partisan in nature that you cannot trust its intent. The media seem reluctant to inform us that, say, the FBI-Russian-Collusion probe is largely a Democrat operation; and no wonder – the moment you find this out the whole venture seems suspect. Similarly with Trump’s alleged achievements: when it’s only Republicans braying about them – and nothing seems certain in the White House anymore anyway – you tend to cease listening. Election promises or threats are still on Trump’s to do list, continually edged downwards and periodically restored to seem like urgent preoccupations. Everyone knows that such promises are what you say to get elected, not usually anything you think of as important. But there is too little attention paid to what Trump clearly does regard as important, and with which he can be said to have achieved some considerable success – if you’re prepared to accept that his hidden agenda does not remotely resemble his stated agenda. Steve Bannon may have become Sloppy Steve and no longer work in the White House, but the reason for these slights and his ouster is not what it’s said to be. As the Michael Wolf tell-all-but-say-nothing blab about the administration makes abundantly clear – when nothing else in the tome is at all clear – is that Bannon is a master strategist, the Machiavelli behind Trump’s disobedient Prince, the only man who knows where all the skeletons are hidden and how the century’s greatest political coup was accomplished. They still talk every day of course, and it’s anyone’s guess to what extent Bannon still remains helmsman. But he was too great a media distraction, even though you scarcely heard of him after the election, and too easy a target for a media in desperate search, as always, for someone to blame. A nexus of unpalatable influences converge in Bannon, who can be said to be their conduit into the Oval Office – particularly that of Mercer, the shadowy billionaire hedge funder whose avowed intent is to dismantle the institutions of US governance, reduce the administration to a parochial think-tank, and turn back the clock to around 1918 – no welfare, no feminism, no civil rights , no LGBTQ, and no impediments to the carpetbaggers, fiduciary pirates, and sundry other predators out to fleece the country and to own it more completely, with less hurdles to jump, than they already do. Mercer, a Trump eminence grise, has been unguardedly open about his wish-thinking in the past, so we know some of the strategy and tactics that appeal to him. You put men in charge of departments they are known to scorn and believe worthless. You fire key figures in departments, men who may be relatively unknown but are utterly vital to their departments, and you do not replace them. You stack the judiciary with reliable men, men who will do what they’re told to do and not what their conscience dictates. And you whittle away at everything until the dross is gone. For power lies off the radar, in under-secretaries and assistants to the mighty. He who controls the judiciary truly holds the reins and can shape the future. Figureheads come and go, but the real power remains. If you look at the more seemingly boring things Trump has done, fiddling with this department and that department, you will be forced to conclude that the Bannon-Mercer strategy has been rather successfully implemented. You have a climate-change-denier running the EPA, for example, and you have a Secretary of State committed to reducing staff at the State Department by up to fifty percent (the numbers can’t be trusted anymore), with many of those let go important section heads whose sections will effectively cease to exist without them. This is the Trump agenda and it is moving along quite nicely out of the media glare, and never tweeted about, for the tweets are a smokescreen few journalists seem willing to fully comprehend, taking the bait every morning like fish-time in the penguin cage. These are the real reasons for American despair.

 

David Frum has a new book too, TRUMPOCRACY, a speculative foray into the presidency – although Frum would never admit to speculating. He always seems to have an eye for which side his bread is buttered on, this determining where his loyalties lie any given year. His consistency is at best punctuated, but he does seem to have concluded there’s no butter for him on Trump’s slice, a conclusion that, as he tells it, leads inexorably to the end of his once-loved Republican Party and America’s destruction. He hadn’t reached this conclusion even months after the election and inauguration, so you must assume that something has happened to change his changeable mind. As editor of the Atlantic Monthly, Frum must have some solid channels to the more influential people in Congress, where the word is that a movement exists to found a new party – the taint of Trump regarded as an indelible Republican stain, impervious to rehabilitation. Frum is always engaging, bright and perceptive, yet his books invariably contain the screech of axes being ground somewhere in the background. Here he makes interesting points about the consequences of a fractured or irrelevant party – it will leave Trump more powerful than ever – but his attempt to leave the reader concluding that obviously a new party is needed veers the argument away from fruitful territory and into trackless bush, where some wise old shaman keeps asking you if a new party is really going to solve the old dilemma. Despair from left and right, thick and fast, and no one keeping an eye on the real damage done daily.

 

Up here in the Great White North we are fomenting our own modest despair with two opposition parties that seem to have forgotten they’re supposed to have a purpose beyond the knee-jerk opposition to whatever the governing Liberals do or don’t do. At best a Grade 10 debating society in a querulous, unruly part of town, Parliament increasingly resembles proceedings of the Lilliputian senate, or whatever it was, regarding which end of a boiled egg ought to be cracked open. No one ventures to speak the truth: it actually doesn’t matter which end you crack. Everyone merely looks to see which side they should be on, and then argues for it vehemently, as if they care passionately. Our Conservatives have a good idea of where they must always stand – less taxes, more ethics, blah-blah – which leaves the New Democrats (so au courant and edgy they elected a turbaned Sikh as leader) in the only position requiring some deep thought and ingenuity to come up with objections to the Liberals that the Tories haven’t or couldn’t raise themselves. We’re still waiting for one of these bombshells to explode in Ottawa. In truth, all three parties brandish policies that are remarkably similar, since the most pressing problems all have similar and manifestly obvious solutions – usually money. With surprising persistence the Liberals have forged ahead with a plan to right every wrong since Contact, and if you only listen to the CBC you would get the impression that Indigenous issues, gender equality, LGBTQ-Two-Spirit (and whatever else) rights, and so on were the only problems we face. So far towards guilt and fairness has the pendulum swung that you fear for the backlash when it comes, as it most certainly will. For this policy has ignored the very people who Trump identified as his base in the US, the blue-collar working Canadians who regard themselves, perhaps wrongly, as this country’s founders. Just as the US Democrats began to shun their own base, the unions and proletariat, preferring to cobble together a second hierarchy of achievers, experts, lawyers and economists – a caste who all believe the same things and dominate public discourse – so the Liberals here have similarly formed a central corpus of new-money elites who pretend concern for the working class but in reality applaud entrepreneurship, innovation, and the championing of banner concerns, like the Indigenous, that no one in the opposition parties dares to criticize for fear of politically incorrect exile and banishment. Once the First Nations realized someone was actually listening, their complaints came thick and fast, the more easily soluble ones acted on with a haste amounting to folly, but many of the others getting tangled up in related problems that spawn committee after committee – because no one can admit they may prove insoluble. Far easier to take down the statue of Cornwallis, founder of Halifax, at the request of Mig-Maw representatives who pointed out that Cornwallis, beside his more laudable achievements, was also a racist bastard intent on exterminating the Indigenous, who he regarded as not human, as the Jesuit missionaries did (you have to be baptized to be human, apparently). Renaissance intellectual and statesman Thomas More – author of UTOPIA – believed that people who said the Communion host was just a piece of bread and not the body of Christ ought to be tortured and burned alive. It is unlikely that anyone now thinks he was right about this, yet statues of him still stand in London and portraits hang in museums, not to celebrate his rectitude but to acknowledge that, as Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, and a prominent man of his time, his role in history can never be denied. If you don’t like the past – and anyone studying it can hardly find our ancestors a heartwarming spectacle – you don’t have to; but you can’t erase it. Facts are facts, and always will be – until Steve Bannon becomes Czar. I suggested to the Mayor of Halifax that one of the many fine Mig-Maw artists – like Ursula Johnson – be commissioned to create a work around or near the Cornwallis statue to elucidate his darker side, like the bounty he set on dead Indians, so that visitors will be apprised of the whole story. Apparently Ursula Johnson herself also favoured this solution. But no. The issue became something other than what it was about, a test of wills and a flexing of newly-acquired muscle, so the statue came down and will presumably be gathering dust in some government warehouse into the next millennium, while history smarts, and those forgotten Canadians who prize their history – or what little they know of it – feel snubbed, pushed to the back of the line in favour of the politically correct darlings, people they view as parasites expecting eternal compensation for grievances stretching into the mists of time. This will not end well, and it is highly inadvisable for any government to overlook one disaffected group for another. This sudden righting of old wrongs smacks of a guilt that may be felt keenly by liberal elites, but is not such a pressing issue for those whose awareness of current events is sketchy and sporadic, yet who nonetheless, rightly or wrongly, regard themselves as the builders of this modern nation. No one should say the Indigenous have no grievances. But no one should ignore the grievances building in other quarters for entirely different – but not dismissible – reasons, grievances that a Trump could and would use as the foundation of his base and a time when the pendulum will swing so far back in the other direction it will be hard to believe it was ever anywhere else. Division in society is no way to protect the frail thing we call democracy, which is still the exception in this troubled, directionless world.

 

Concomitant with all this is the Me Too or Time’s Up tyranny, in which an allegation, even one reporting an event decades ago, with no recourse to the Law or law enforcement, is deemed sufficient to destroy a career and deprive someone of their livelihood. This is not good for the world either. If someone is accused of theft or fraud it will go to the law before any judgement is made, as will virtually every other felony or misdemeanor. Even pedophiles are granted a day in court – but not the suspect of sexual impropriety, or, more troublingly, the prominent member of society thus suspected (and usually in the entertainment business, which we seem to regard as the only real prominence that exists). I agree with the brilliant Cambridge classicist, Margaret Beard – author of WOMEN AND POWER – who says that these men should be publically shamed, obliged to confess the error of their ways, and promise never to do it again. In most cases, that’s surely enough, no? You go up to Kevin Spacey’s hotel room and he makes a pass at you – what did you expect? – and twenty years later you decide this flaw in judgement should warrant destroying his career and probably ruining the rest of his life, not to mention robbing the world of a fine actor? Huh? Am I missing something? The victim seems to be more deserving of punishment for thinking one trifle warrants Armageddon. You think of the mobs eagerly attending burnings and guillotinings, and you are forced to concede that public opinion counts for very little. The whole business also overlooks the fact that men and women may be equal in the eyes of the law, but they are still very different. It’s physiology and anthropology. A man can father two or more children a day if he wishes; a woman has one shot and then it’s a year or more out of action. This reflects something deep in the DNA, which hasn’t ever really changed and, whether we like it ot not, tells us our only real purpose here as animals is to reproduce. Our tragic flaw is the mind which persuades us we can aspire to higher goals, yet the mind’s vehicle is a body that knows nothing more than sex and food. The dichotomy can be blamed for all our woes as a species; and it ought to be taken into account when unwanted advances or comments come up. The peacock struts about with his jewelled tail feathers waving at all the hens. The man feels compelled to further his vestigial mission to spread the seed at every opportunity. Our nature may well be changing, but it will be thousands of years before anyone will be able to determine that for certain. In the meantime, history will remain history, and men will be governed for much of their lives by animal instincts seemingly beyond conscious control, and, let’s face it, not viewed as repellant by all women. The suppression of reality is not good for the world, which changes at its own pace. You don’t go to China for a trade deal and dictate all the politically correct changes the Chinese will have to make to get that deal. They famously dislike any interference in their internal affairs, just as Henry VIII would have been outraged if the Emperor of China told him to stop racking, flaying and boiling his subjects alive. Change comes little by little. We shall have to see if the current male wariness around women can override the boiling reptile instinct to hump – and then be equal again.

 

I shall leave the midden of Europe and the trembling of Britain until a later date – or never. My very best for the coming year.

 

Paul William Roberts

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com